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FLS journalists test new voter ID law

BY JONAS BEALS

VIRGINIANS had a new voter ID law to contend with in Tuesday’s election. Although not as onerous as some laws passed or contemplated by other states, it was still a new hurdle placed between residents of the commonwealth and the ballot scanner.

I decided it was time to put the new law to the test, and, with the help of fellow Free Lance–Star employees, conducted a very modest, nonscientific test to see whether the law worked as intended in our area.

Before we get to the unverified anecdotal evidence, we will begin with a primer.

As many voters discovered, the acceptable forms of ID, according to the State Board of Elections, are:

Virginia voter registration card.

Valid Virginia driver’s license.

Military ID.

Any Federal, Virginia state or local government-issued ID.

Employer-issued photo ID card.

Concealed-handgun permit.

Valid student ID issued by any institution of higher education located in the commonwealth of Virginia.

Current utility bill, bank statement, government check or paycheck indicating the name and address of the voter.

Social Security card.

Voters who did not have any ID meeting the above criteria were given provisional ballots.

So, how did newsroom voters fare on Tuesday?

Just fine. Not a single voter was turned away or forced to go provisional, although a few of us had to fall back on a voter ID card or driver’s license to get our hands on a ballot.

Some forms of ID that worked without a hitch: a hunting license, Social Security cards, a Dominion Virginia Power bill, a Free Lance–Star pay stub, a military ID, a student ID, and Free Lance–Star employee ID badges.

But it wasn’t all perfectly smooth sailing, and there were a couple of inconsistencies. While three of us were able to use our company badges to vote, one was not.

One approved form of ID that did not work: a Verizon phone bill.

My own experience was probably the most interesting (of course it was!). I presented my Stafford County personal-property tax bill—which I received in the mail Tuesday morning—to the poll workers at Ferry Farm Elementary School. After consulting their list of eligible identification, they determined it did not meet the criteria. And they were correct, according to a strict reading of the rules.

I turned to my Free Lance–Star badge, which meets the requirements of an employer-issued photo ID. It worked, but not without some further scrutiny.

Although the poll workers were true to the letter of the law, I found it a little odd that my tax bill—an official piece of Stafford County correspondence with my name and address on it—did not work, while my badge, an admittedly low-tech card with no date or address, made me a voter.

An additional thought: My electric bill, which contains no more identifying information than my tax bill, would have met voting requirements. In another intriguing stir of the pot, one Free Lance–Star employee successfully voted using only her personal-property tax bill as identification.

What else did we learn? Well, some co-workers didn’t need to show any ID at all, thanks to acquaintances working the polls. At one poll, a bank statement—which is an acceptable form of identification—worked only when paired with a Social Security card.

In the end, every one of my lab assistants was able to vote, even if the identification criteria weren’t exactly applied in a uniform manner.

I’m no fan of laws that curtail—even slightly—the most basic American freedom of voting. But if we must have the oversight that our elected officials demand, I’m glad it’s just as questionable and error-prone as our government writ large.

Jonas Beals: 540/368-5036

jbeals@freelancestar.com

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/newsdesk/2012/11/06/fls-journalists-test-new-voter-id-law/